Now, my darlings, I don’t wish to give you the false impression that my life is all theater nonsense and semi-nude dalliances on the balcony of my beautiful Boston Brahmin gated apartment complex. In point of fact, as Skipper casually mentioned, I’m a successful marketing executive, and selflessly work an exhausting six (sometimes seven!) hours a day as Vice President of Community Outreach at the non-profit and very well meaning Spangler Organization, a group dedicated to ending hunger in our lifetime, or some such nonsense.
Oh! That was terrible. I do apologize. Sometimes I just get too cynical for my own good. The truth is, they are all terribly well-meaning people. Every single one of them, down to the janitor, cares a great deal about simply everything.
Take this exchange with Louise Reinhart, my long-suffering administrative assistant, when I skulked into the office at ten o’clock on Monday morning:
LOUISE: How did auditions go, boss? Did you get the role?
DANTE: Kitten, if you ever mention the word Sweeney Todd to me again I’ll cut you with a razor!
LOUISE: (Looking confused, the poor dear.) Does that mean you didn’t get it? Or are you just in character?
DANTE: Coffee, dear girl! COFFEE!
I didn’t talk to the bitch for the next two hours. It was just a “hold all calls and don’t even look in my general direction” kind of day. Or, as Louise likes to call it (when she thinks I’m not listening,) Monday.
After a few hours, though, I did begin to soften, particularly when Louise had two dozen red roses delivered to my office, with the touching inscription, “From all of us to all of you.” Ah, the sweet child! And she has been such a tremendous help, for lo, these past two years, particularly when it comes to spending entire afternoons at work—sometimes until seven at night—helping me go over lines for my various theatrical endeavors. Even during the most time-consuming and tedious capital campaigns for Spangler, that girl has always managed to find a few hours for THIS GUY.
That’s why, around noon time, I found my hard heart softening, and sweetly as could be, I buzzed her on the intercom and said, as a means of rapprochement, “Louise, call up Kevin to see what he’s doing for lunch, would you? Then book my favorite table at Scampo, thank you!”
Fast forward to half an hour later, and Kevin and I are walking through Beacon Hill on our way to the Liberty Hotel for a something something to eat. Of course, Kevin hadn’t been doing anything (what does he do for a living, again? I’m positive he’s mentioned it before, through all his blah blah blah), and of course, he was wearing something ridiculous: white go-go boots with a far-too-long red scarf that would have given Isadora Duncan pause, and was entirely inappropriate for the practically spring-like weather we were experiencing in the death throes of autumn.
Kevin was a regular tower of Babylon, as usual. Something about a plush dinner jacket that had received an unfortunate stain on the lapel, and however was he going to get it off? I was already five minutes into regretting my choice of luncheon companions.
“No matter how many times I vow to be careful, every time I want to have a good time, I just can’t avoid staining my stuff!” Kevin was complaining, and much too loudly, at that.
“Kevin, shhh!” I chastised, stopping at the intersection with Cambridge. The hotel was within jizzing distance, if you happened to be a first-class jizzer. “We are just about to enter a respectful restaurant. Lydia is a personal friend!”
“But how am I supposed to get it out?” MY GOD, THE MAN’S WHINING WAS MOVING BEYOND HUMAN HEARING!
“White vinegar or Borax,” I answered clinically. Ah, an opening! A yellow cab stopping to let out passengers. “Now, stop pestering me about—ohhhh!”
That was the point I realized exactly who the passengers in the taxi were.
“Dante, darling, what a pleasant surprise!” Danita Weatherlayne was absolutely beaming, and weighed down with far too many shopping bags. Her husband, RJ, was exiting the other side of the cab, wearing a stylish Armani suit that she must have purchased, with a large white name tag affixed to the lapel. He was paying the taxi driver, but finished the task quickly when he realized whom they had bumped in to.
He was ebullient. The cad.
“Look who’s here!” RJ practically leapfrogged onto the sidewalk to join us. “Kevin! Dante! Are you two painting the town red this early in the day?”
“RJ. I NEVER would have known it was you without the name tag,” I said, trying hard not to let the sneer I felt in my heart shine through.
RJ glanced down. Ripped the name tag off. “I was at a real estate conference and thought I’d take the missus out for a bite.”
“To celebrate!” Danita exclaimed, putting down a shopping bag and pumping her fist into the air. “Don’t you just love Scampo, Dante? In fact, why do I have this vague recollection that it might be your favorite lunch bucket in all of Boston?” She blinked, all innocence, and shook her Anniston-inspired mane.
The scoundrels! Real estate conference be damned, I knew exactly why they were lunching at Scampo this afternoon. This was no coincidence—they were looking to rub in my face the fact that they had screwed me out of the top roles in Sweeney Todd, leaving me stuck with the lowly Beadle! Of all the callous and deliberately cruel acts...what had I done to deserve such treatment? What?
But lo, I determined there and then I would not sink to their level. I’d be damned if I’d give them the satisfaction of showing even a hint of the irritation they were desperately looking to inflict upon me. I was an actor, after all! I could rise to the occasion, and show Danita and RJ just who the master thespian truly was.
“Oh, are you eating here, too?” I asked, as sweetly as a Southern hostess at tea time. “I had my assistant book reservations for Kevin and myself. Now that you’re here, though, I simply must insist that the two of you sit with the two of us at lunch.”
“But—“ Kevin looked apoplectic. Redder than his scarf, even.
I smiled, hiding clenched teeth. “Unless, of course, you were hoping for a more romantic interlude.”
Just the out Danita was looking for. “That’s the thing.” She always was the smarter of the two. RJ would just stand there and let you see the wheels in his hamster mind turning, but Danita made the killing seem seamless. She walked over to her husband, managed to grab his hands, despite her haul. “RJ and I were hoping to...well, of course, have a victory lunch to celebrate our roles in Todd.” A glance to me, to bring me into it, pretending she actually cared. “Dante, you knew, right? RJ is the lead!”
“Yes, a little bird tweeted the news.” Hell’s bells! Did I have to? I must, I must. With great effort, I glanced in RJ’s general direction. “I guess the better man won. Congratulations.”
To his credit, RJ did appear impressed—even touched?—by this display of conciliation. “Thank you, Dante.” Danita cleared her throat. RJ remembered his lines. “And of course, my fair lady is playing Lovett!”
“Brava,” I said, clapping a few soft claps that were limper than twink night at the Randolph Country Club. Kevin took that as his cue to join in, too, which he did, a bit too overenthiastically. A quick elbow to the stomach took care of that. “Brava. Well, I don’t wish to interrupt your little celebration, so we’ll—“
Leave it to Danita to interrupt my well-timed exit. “I heard from my own little bird you’ll be playing the Beadle.” Damn her and her sing song voice!
A pursing of the lips. “Yes, yes. I look forward to working with both of you in your—“
“Such a shame. I know you were looking forward to putting your own spin on Sweeney. But it’s just what I told you, isn’t it?”
“Yes, hehe. Yes it is, Danita.”
“Perhaps with more time to perfect your audition piece...I know what a hectic life you lead, though! Well, don’t be too upset about it!” Danita lifted up a bag and stared at her watch, as if she were bored with the conversation. “It is a nice little role, after all, and as I said, a perfect one for you.”
The silence that followed her toxic statement formed a deep dark pit, as I struggled to retain control of my emotions. “That’s...that’s kind of you to say. Thank you.”
“Why...” And Danita chuckled. Chuckled! The raging pestilent whorebag. “RJ and I were just commenting on that the other day. You know how the Beadle has that funny little habit? Oh, you know, during his song, where his voice kind of goes a little flat? Right, RJ?”
“Why yes, that is correct,” said RJ, squeezing Danita tightly and looking relaxed and handsome. Typical no-good real estate salesman. “Because you know, Dante, your voice does have a tendency to go naturally flat, haha.”
I felt Kevin place a warning hand on my shoulder. “It...it does?” I managed to sputter.
“Well, yes! Like that time you played Tevye in Fiddler opposite Missy. Some of your notes were dangerously—“ Now it was Danita’s turn to elbow her boy in the stomach. “Ouch!”
That grip on my shoulder tightened. “Dangerously what, RJ?”
“RJ, darling, you are being entirely too rude,” said Danita, sensing that a bridge had gone too far. “All he’s suggesting, Dante, is that as the human voice ages, it does tend to lose its natural, shall we say, elasticity? And sometimes, as evidenced by some of the notes you were forced to sustain while singing opposite Missy, the end result to the delicately tuned ears in the audience were a little...well, harsh.”
I remained deadly calm. “”So, you think there were problems with my singing?”
Kevin, sensing a five alarm fire, began waving his scarf in my face. “That table, the restaurant—“
“You sang really, really flat,” said RJ, friendly as can be. “I actually groaned out loud when I heard a few of those notes! And Danita was getting that constipated look of hers.”
Danita lifted up a finger. “But! There are ways you can fix that, Dante. I have the name of an absolutely terrific vocal trainer who could fix you up in seconds flat.”
A vocal coach? For MY voice? That did it.
“You have the nerve to stand here and accuse me of singing flat?” I barked out, scaring off a homeless man who had been reaching out to grab Kevin’s scarf.
Kevin was a looking a bit pale himself, knowing the storm cloud that was brewing. He grabbed my arm and started moving toward Scampo. “Maybe we should just get that table, Dante. It’s getting—“
Dramatically, I flung his arm aside. Well, not LITERALLY. But a stand must be taken. “I stand here, ready to swallow my pride and nicely congratulate you for a victory you hardly deserve, and could hardly have achieved if you didn’t have your head so far up Vern Slater’s arse that you can only see brown. And now, despite this, you have the NERVE to accuse ME of singing FLAT?”
Danita was looking a little alarmed. “Perhaps we were a bit out of line. RJ, maybe—“
“Let me tell you something, I have never sung a flat note a single day in my life! My voice is a hidden treasure in Boston, and certainly the crown jewel of the Bull Moose Theater Guild! Both of you damn well know it, too, which is why you hate me so.”
Suddenly, RJ tried to act all conciliatory. “Dante, neither of us—“
I cut him off, bellowing fiercely and pointing an accusatory finger at him. “Hate me! Detest me! Scorn me to my face, openly! But let me tell you something, you will RUE the day you accused me of singing flat, RJ! I could simply kill you for having said that. Let me tell you this...before this show is over, I will see to it that I have made your life a living hell. Just. You. Wait!”
Having successfully executed my best “no wire hangers, EVER!” moment, I grabbed Kevin by the scarf and marched him into Scampo, leaving behind two stunned overcooked hams to stew in their own juices, mouths agape and staring at each other, guiltily.